A consistent topic of discussion on blogs is the matter of alcohol use. Abstentionists, abolitionists, moderationalists, and free-will imbibers abound. It is safe to say that we lack a unified opinion on the matter. The freedom of the believer, the autonomy of the local church, and the belief in the equal indwelling of the Holy Spirit combine to create an environment in which we can choose to believe what we will on the subject.
But what about people who represent the SBC and its agencies? It is one thing for a local church member to support moderate alcohol use. It is an entirely different matter for an associational president or a NAMB worker to propose such a controversial theological solution to the matter. After all, SBC workers should reflect SBC thought; if each Southern Baptist believes himself to be correct in his position on alcohol use, then he has every right to expect convention workers to represent him in the matter, right?
Let us take a page from the work of Abelard and Anselm, and approach an issue through logic and reason, testing to see what conclusions we might draw. Consider the following logical progression:
Item #1: The IMB is an SBC entity and as such must reflect basic Southern Baptist thought.
Item #2: Basic Southern Baptist thought is formally explained in The Baptist Faith and Message (2000).
Item #3: The BFM (2000) says nothing about the morality of alcohol use.
Therefore, the IMB, as an SBC entity, is not bound to reflect anything at all about the morality of alcohol use.
With me so far?
If you can spot the logical fallacy in this sequence, by all means do so, but please remember something crucial: I’m not asking you to tell me whether or not alcohol is a sin. I am requesting that you find IF a logical fallacy exists here and if so, WHAT that fallacy is.
Now, moving on…
There’s more to consider here than simply the Baptist Faith and Message. Up to this point, all we’ve looked at is the silence of the BFM on the matter of alcohol. There’s also IMB policy established by trustees who represent the convention. What policies or practices within the IMB address how workers should approach alcohol?
Basically there is a rather short list of behaviors that will get a missionary fired without much preamble. For the most part, the items on the list relate to moral behaviors; the phrase applied to people who leave the company after violating one of these rules is “moral failure.” Consumption of alcohol as a beverage is indeed on that list. In other words, the IMB applies a rather strict rule of forbidding alcohol consumption for its workers despite the fact that the SBC has no official stance on alcohol consumption. The IMB has the right to establish behavioral norms for its workers, and their view of this matter is well-defined.
While no one has ever offered to explain the policy to me, I would imagine the rule exists as a reflection of conviction among the trustees that IMB workers should be above all reproach even if it means forbidding something that may or may not be a sin. The most interesting part of all of this is that when we went through the IMB’s application and approval process, we signed a form acknowledging the IMB’s rules about alcohol, a document that referenced IMB policy without a single mention of the morality of alcohol consumption. We were not called upon to see drinking as a sin, just as a violation of policy.
So…here’s the question:
How do you think IMB workers should address alcohol in the various places in which they labor?
What do you think we should say to the president of the Czech Baptist convention who drinks a beer with his lunch?
What needs to be said to the poor Romanian family that celebrated the entire family’s baptism by breaking out the champagne they saved for 10 years, waiting for an event worthy of the expense?
What about the Argentine pastors who debate theology over a bottle of wine?
The Christian Ecuadorian factory workers who are provided a daily lunch with a cup of beer while on the job?
I’m not asking you to help me formulate a Biblical response to presence or absence of sin in these situations. I’m saying, “The SBC is schizophrenic, and IMB employment/behavioral policies don’t apply to international Christians…so what do you think I should say?” Most IMB workers I know have developed their own responses and positions on the matter. I’d like to know what the residents and citizens of SBCendom think about it. Many SBC members believe that I, Mr. IMB Worker, should represent SBC interests and philosophies to the world at large. Fine. Tell me how.
P.S. Any discussion that attempts to prove that alcohol is or is not a sin should be considered off-topic. If you must state your position as a part of your response, do so; please try to address the topic, though. In addition, please understand that IMB does alter its policies and practices. I have no idea what the current process is for new workers, just what the process was when we went through it.